France held the first round of its presidential election on Sunday, and for the first time the country's modern history, neither of the two winners were from the main two political parties. Instead, National Front leader Marine Le Pen will face off against Emmanuel Macron, founder of the new En Marche! party, in the runoff. The stakes are quite high, given that Le Pen wants France to leave the European Union — so will Marine Le Pen win the runoff and become the next president of France?
Well, anything can happen. We learned that after the triumph of Brexit and, later, the election of Donald Trump. Some have drawn comparisons between those votes and the French election, and to be sure, there are some similarities. Like Trump, Le Pen is a an anti-immigration nationalist squaring off against a centrist. Le Pen wants France to follow in Great Britain's footsteps and leave the European Union, while Macron wants France to stay in the EU. And like Trump, Le Pen is polling behind her opponent, suggesting that a Trump-style upset is possible.
However, there's one big reason to doubt Le Pen's chances of winning, one that didn't apply to either Brexit or Trump. And that's the sheer magnitude of her polling deficit. Sure, Brexit and Trump both trailed in the polls before the vote — but not by anywhere near as much as Le Pen is against Macron.
Nationalist candidates have done pretty badly since Trump won. Wilders & Le Pen faded down the stretch run. Hofer underperformed in Austria.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 23, 2017
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton led Trump by an average of around 5 points, according to Huffpo Pollster, while Remain led Brexit by an average of just one-half of a percent. By comparison, in runoff polling, Macron leads Le Pen by an average of 25 points, according to the Crosstab. Twenty-five points. That's five times greater than Clinton's lead over Trump, and 50 times (!) bigger than Brexit's polling deficit.
It's also relevant to note that France, unlike the United States, doesn't allow the loser of the popular vote to become president, which is how Trump won. There's no electoral college equivalent in France; whoever gets the most votes in the runoff becomes the next president. This is relevant because Clinton, despite underperforming her polling, did win the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots.
None of this is to say that Le Pen has no chance of winning. It seems impossible that a candidate who trails by 25 points two weeks before the vote could come from behind and win — but then again, it also seemed impossible that a candidate who was consistently behind in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin would end up winning all three states. But even if we account for the massive polling errors leading up to Brexit and Trump, there's still not much reason to believe Le Pen will triumph when France votes on May 7.